Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Animal movies

Egyptian Fakir with Dancing Monkey (1903)

This short film from Edison is a good example of the use of cinema to bring exotic locations and sights to the eyes of people who had limited opportunities for travel. Directed by A.C. Abadie, who we saw as an actor in “What Happened on Twenty Third Street,” it also displays the odd effect of putting a musical event onto silent film.

egyptian-fakirThe camera is low to the ground, and gives us a view of a bearded man with a turban squatting on the ground. Near the man is a goat. The man plays a drum, and in front of him is a monkey, attached by a string to his master. The monkey wears a little costume that includes a fez and pants which are covered in little bells. It shimmies and dances in time to the drumming, in order to make the bells ring. It also holds a long stick in its tail. At one point, it stands on its head. At another, it hops across the ground. Finally, the man puts down his drum and picks up a stick like the one the monkey has, and they “duel” with the sticks as he continues to sing, presumably beating out the time by hitting their sticks together rhythmically. There is a jump cut at the end, after which another man in Middle Eastern garb joins the “fakir” and stares into the camera.

I’m not certain whether this movie was shot in Egypt, but the illusion that it may have been is fairly complete – the only foliage we see are palm fronds, and there is no indication that it was shot in a studio or a convenient part of New York. It seems like without the singing, or the sounds of the bells and the sticks, we must be missing a lot of the impact of the performance. However, from a visual standpoint it certainly gives the viewer a look at something that would be out of the ordinary for early-twentieth century Americans, and the monkey’s trained responses to the music are impressive. The monkey has its back to the camera during almost the whole film, but it is still entertaining.

Director: Alfred C. Abadie

Camera: Alfred C. Abadie

Starring: Unknown man and monkey

Run Time: 1 Min, 45 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Cook & Rilly’s Trained Rooster (1905)

Alternate Title: Le Coq dressé de Cook et Rilly

Well, this is a movie in which a rooster sits on a stool and crows. That’s it.

If it were a silent film, that would be pretty darn silly. However, it’s an early experiment with synch-sound recording, for which, happily, the sound disc still survives. There are actually thousands of such movies, and quite probably thousands of such discs, but in general they have not been reunited, which is too bad, because neither element would work alone.

Cook and Rillys Trained RoosterAdmittedly, even with sound, this is a pretty boring film, and I’d bet it wasn’t intended for commercial distribution, just as a test to show that the system worked. One thing it got me thinking about is the sound that roosters make. In English, we are told from a young age that roosters say, “cock-a-doodle-doo.” I have never heard a rooster say this, however. To me, their call sounds more like, “Er-Er-ER!-Errr…”, with the emphasis unfailingly on that third syllable and the final one trailing off. I have no idea where this silliness about “cock-a-doodle-doo” comes from.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown (possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville)

Starring: A rooster

Run Time: 2 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Danse Serpentine in a Lion’s Cage (1900)

This is another French example of a circus act on film, along with “Kobelkoff.” It is very different from the other Serpentine Dance movies we’ve seen up to now, in that it wouldn’t work as well in a constant loop, having clear beginning and end points.

Danse Serpentine LionsA lion trainer and two maned male lions are in a small cage. He cracks his whip and the lions run about on cue. He brings out a cow and keeps the lions back from it. There is another performance, apparently with different cats (possibly tigers, or female lions). Then the trainer goes backstage. When he re-emerges, the male lions are back, and he brings a woman in a hand-tinted dress. He has her stand back while he corrals the lions into a corner. Then she steps forward and waves her arms so that the dress creates flowing patterns. She dances before the lions, who seem mesmerized by the dress. Then, she steps back and the movie ends.

I think that stripey blur is a tiger (?)

I think that stripey blur is a tiger (?)

The big surprise for me was that the “dance” portion of this movie only lasted about a quarter of its run time – just over thirty seconds. The rest was a pretty typical circus lion act, with the lions running up and down a small cage to the sound of their trainer’s whip. Note that he does not appear to hit the animals, the whip is used only as a sound cue. Animal rights proponents will still find the cramped conditions of the cage alarming, as well as the evidence of human dominance over wild animals. I felt a bit concerned for the cow, even though of course nothing happened to it.  Because the camera was on the other side of the bars from the animals, I had a hard time seeing whether they were striped or not, especially when they were in motion. Imdb attributes this movie to director Alice Guy, but the disc I watched it on makes no mention of this. Similarly, I have been able to find no information about the “Madame Ondine” who according to the disc is the dancer.

Director: Unknown (possibly Alice Guy-Blaché)

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Madame Ondine

Run Time: 2 Min, 8 secs

You can watch it for free: here (no music).

A Little Hero (1913)

Little HeroCould this Keystone short have been the inspiration for Sylvester and Tweety Bird cartoons? Mabel Normand is a young woman with lots of pets: a cat, a dog, and a bird in the cage. She’s very affectionate with her dog, and also pays a lot of attention to the bird, while the cat sits quietly on the couch, apparently happy to sleep undisturbed. Then she goes out, and the cat soon starts stalking the caged creature. The dog, seeing what’s coming, runs off to get some “friends” – a trio of much larger dogs – to chase the cat away from the bird’s cage. Mabel comes home to find the cage knocked over, the dog on the table, and the cat nowhere around. Somehow, she puts it together (I’d have scolded the dog for knocking over the birdcage, but never mind), and hugs her little hero.

I Tot I Taw a Puddy Tat!

I Tot I Taw a Puddy Tat!

What’s remarkable in this film is their ability to use the animal actors so effectively to tell a story, when it’s clear that none of them are the kind of trained “stage animal” we’re used to seeing on screen (Lassie, Rusty, Boomer, etc). The cat, in particular, is being completely natural in its behavior, and the bird is genuinely terrified. The dogs don’t have much to do but run around, but they stay in shot and look determined (probably to get a tasty treat offscreen!). Given Mack Sennett’s frugal shooting ratios, we have to assume that there weren’t many “bad takes” and that someone had simply figured out how best to use the resources at hand.

A natural star.

A natural star.

The Internet has some conflicting credits for this film, Some sources say Mack Sennett directed, some say George Nichols, who made some of Chaplin’s Keystone movies. The Silent Era splits the difference and says it could have been either. More perplexingly, some sources give additional human cast members, including Harold Lloyd. The only way this is possible is if there’s lost footage on the version I saw, because Mabel is definitely the only human I saw. It seems unlikely, because the story itself is complete, anything added would be superfluous. Still,I could imagine an opening scene where Harold gives Mabel the bird and tells her to take care of it for the weekend or something. Until I find another version, I’m sticking with the story that Mabel did a solo here.

Director: Mack Sennett or George Nichols (or both)

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Mabel Normand, Pepper the cat, Teddy the dog

Run Time: 4 Min, 30 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.